Just a Shell

“Another coffee?”

The robot looked down at the middle-aged man who was still busily drawing. This time it was a large purply fruit, bumpy, like a blackberry. Or… “Boysenberry?” the robot asked.

The man looked up, frowning. “What did you say?”

“Boysenberry. A cross between a blackberry, raspberry, dewberry and loganberry.”

The robot’s voice was female. Pleasant.

“And this one?” the man asked, now showing her another of the various pictures littered across the table. There was a pause for a few seconds while the robot said nothing. Then, “Looks like the inside of a kiwi fruit. And a little like a gooseberry.”

“Yes, that’s what I thought.” The man huffed. “And I suppose this one looks like a strawberry?” he said, pointing to another of the pictures.

“A cubic strawberry,” answered the robot. “But the pink coloring is most attractive. In my opinion, at least.”

The man stared at the contraption serving him. “You things have opinions now?”

The robot hesitated.

“Would sir like some more coffee?”

The robot bent her smooth white arm downwards, the coffee jug held firmly in her long metallic fingers. The jug hovered above the man’s cup but failed to pour, awaiting his orders.

“So, in your opinion,” the man asked, eyes fixed on the drawings, seemingly unaware of her action, “which of these fruits strikes you as the most original?”


“The most like no other fruit that exists.” He spread the drawings across the table, lining them up. “Which of these says to you, Now that’s a fruit I’ve never tried.” He looked up at her blank face. A visor over a head of shiny white. The visor glowed in a warming tint of amber-orange. “Okay, want to try,” the man said. “I mean, you’re a robot with opinions, and I’d like to hear them.” Noticing the hovering coffee jug, he gestured for her to top him up. “Come, come,” he said. “Let me have it.”

The robot’s visor flickered.

“Well… as a robot who is unable to eat real fruit, I would say the strawberry is the most aesthetically pleasing.”

The man huffed. “The strawberry.”

“I like the color. And the shape.”

“The square shape.”

“And the speckles. I like the speckles.”

“But it’s still a strawberry. That’s what you’re calling it.” The man took a sip of his coffee, looking again at her smooth, oval face. “If you’re already calling it a strawberry, then that’s what it is and I’ve failed already.”

“How about pink square berry?”

“Pink, square…” The man laughed. “A robot with a sense of humor, eh? If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were making fun of me.”

“Just trying to cheer you up,” came the reply. Incapable of smiling, the robot just stared at the man, and in spite of himself, in spite of his tired mood and the stress of having to come up with something original by dawn, the man was beginning to warm to her.

“So what d’ya say we work with that? Give it some fancy Latin name. What’s Latin for pink and square?”

“I’ve no idea.”

“Thought you robots could access the net in an instant?”

“I’m not that sort of robot.” She hesitated. “But I could do a search.”

“Not that sort of robot, she says.” The man gazed down at the picture of the square pink strawberry. “Seem to know a lot about fruit though; for a robot who never eats.”

The robot’s visor flickered again in the orange tinting. “I work in a diner. Food is my expertise.”

She watched as the man huffed, pushing the picture to one side, then gathered up the others into a neat pile which he folded together and handed to her.

“Trash,” he said. “If you please.”

“Of course, sir.”

“And get me a… what do you serve in this joint?”

She waved a robotic hand over the tabletop’s IR and a holo-image of blueberry pancakes on a large white plate spun slowly in front of them.

“You choose this?”

“It’s the most popular serving for this time of the morning.”

The man looked at his watch. “Five-fifteen a.m,” he sighed. “Two more hours.”

“You have to come up with something by seven fifteen?”

“Meeting’s at eight. But I’ll have to go home and change. Pod to my building, pod to the office. Even two hours is cutting it fine.”

Her visor flickered again. “And you have to present a drawing of a fruit?”

“That’s right,” the man said. Reaching out, he swiped away the pancakes and a menu appeared. With a series of further swipes he brought up a Key lime pie, a fat slice with cream that now spun in front of them. “It’s a winner,” the man said. “Original recipe, never bettered.”

“I see,” the robot said.

“See what?”

“I understand,” she answered. “I think I know what you’re doing. You have to design a fruit. Something unique, like an original dish.”

“Exactly, doll.” The man hit at the pie and in turn the robot beeped. Her visor turned green. “Right away, sir,” she said, and spun around, heading for the kitchen.


The robot stopped in her tracks, turning back to face him. On her feet were a set of rollers; it was the way the robots here moved. They were short but not dwarf-like, the perfect height to be standing next to a table talking down to the seated customer. Their bodies were fat and round, their legs stocky.

“Yes?” the robot asked.

“It’ll be you bringing it to me, yeah?”

The man gestured around the diner, to the other booths and other robots serving.

“Of course, sir. I am yours for the night.”